The former Hecht's department store building on Howard Street, a small hope for downtown redevelopment since drug chain Rite Aid Corp. bought it earlier this year, is a finalist to house a 200- or 300-job office operation, a real estate official said yesterday.

An unidentified travel reservation company is considering leasing space in an upper floor of the Hecht's building and would hire locally to fill most of the jobs, said Mark Shapiro, vice president at Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse Brokerage Services.

The travel company also is considering sites in Anne Arundel County and in Delaware, Mr. Shapiro said. He declined to disclose the identity of the potential tenant, who needs 20,000 square feet of space, or roughly one of the building's eight floors.

The top three floors are finished office space. Rite Aid will occupy the entire first floor, replacing a store across the street.

At the same time, Rite Aid has had preliminary contact with a furniture retailer and an apparel retailer, each of which might be interested in taking a second- or third-story floor, Mr. Shapiro said.

None of the tenants is close to signing leases, and the site has big handicaps to overcome. It has been many years since Howard Street was the heart of the city's retail economy, and the building is several blocks from downtown's main office district.

"Places two blocks from the harbor are having a hard enough time," said Vincent Brocato, office property specialist at Casey & Associates, a local firm that tracks real estate trends. "The farther you get from the harbor, the harder it is."

But the Hecht building has two big virtues, Mr. Shapiro said: bargain rents and office space left in move-in condition by several city and state government tenants that vacated in recent years.

In pitching to the travel company, "I think we were the lowest in terms of rent," Mr. Shapiro said. "I think the prospect was pleasantly surprised when they saw the space." The building is also close to the City Crescent office building, the light rail and Metro subway lines and Lexington Mall.

Rite Aid has said it will lease space in the building, erected in 1925, at below-market rents in an attempt to spark activity on Howard Street. Mr. Shapiro said rents being discussed with the travel concern are approximately $10 per square foot, including utilities and other services.

The $10 range "is at the lower end right now" for Class B office leases, Mr. Brocato said.

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